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Secretary of State Offers Seven Bills: No Apparent Harm, Three Helpful Changes for Voters

The Secretary of State has offered a handful of bills of keen interest to election nerds. Discussed by the Board of Elections last summer, none of these bills do grave damage to the electorate, and some may even increase civic engagement.

House Bill 1049 writes into statute a standing practice of the Secretary of State’s office. Whenever initiatives and/or referenda make the ballot, the Secretary of State produces a ballot question pamphlet (see the 2018 general, 2018 primary, 2016 general) which, as properly and wonderfully required by SDCL 12-13-23, includes written statements from proponents and opponents of each measure along with the full text of each measure to educate the voters. To keep guys like me from submitting epic tomes on ballot measures (and you know I could) for publication at state expense, the Secretary of State’s office has limited Pro/Con statements to 300 words each. HB 1049 writes that word limit into SDCL 12-13-23. We can put time limits on speeches in the Legislature; we can put word limits on this published debate.

House Bill 1050 allows the Secretary of State to create an online voter registration system. This proposal is great! Lower a barrier to entry, add voter registration to the host of other public services we can access online, get more people to participate in elections. That’s real public service.

For petition sponsors like me, online voter registration will be a great benefit. Right now when I’m out petitioning, I ask every person if he or she is registered to vote in South Dakota. If the person doesn’t know, we check the handy online Voter Information Portal. If we don’t find the person in the voter rolls, I have to pull out a voter registration sheet, have them fill it out, then truck that sheet over to the courthouse that day if I want to collect that voter’s signature. With online registration, I can ask, “Are you a voter?” the citizen can whip out her phone, go beep boop beep boop, say, “I am now!” and sign my petitions.

And building and running the HB 1050 online voter registration system will only cost $25,000. Let’s put Kristi Noem’s broadband to good use recruiting voters to kick her out of office in 2022! Do pass!

House Bill 1051 literally takes away your birthday, and mine, and every South Dakota voters… by excluding dates of birth from the publicly available voter registration file. Then-Secretary of State Chris Nelson proposed keeping voter’s birthdates private back in 2008, but the Legislature decided to scale that notion back a third and hide only day and month of birth while leaving the year of birth in the public file. HB 1051 strikes that language and says complete dates of birth, like Social Security numbers and driver license numbers in the voter registration file, are not for public viewing. Pass HB 1051, and gone will be the days when candidates can look at the voter list they can buy from the state and pick out the houses with nice little old ladies (still my favorite demographic to chat up!). Oh well—we’ll survive. Now if we could just get HB 1051 to strike our personally identifying information from all the other canvassing apps….

Clean up on Aisle 5! House Bill 1052 changes one word in one statute: instead of referring to “secondary” election, we should say “runoff.” The Board of Elections and the Legislature made that change in election law in 2017, but they missed one statute. that still says “secondary.” (As a word nerd, I rather like how secondary reminds us of the meaning of primary… although that suggests that if a primary results in a secondary election, then we’d have to call the general a tertiary, and a tie there could result in a quaternary… and besides: no one ever says secondary instead of runoff. Fix it!)

House Bill 1053 tinkers with the process for submitting ballot measures, saying that initiative sponsors shall submit not just each draft initiative petition but each version of a draft initiative to the Legislative Research Council director for review. The LRC director then shall review each version of the submitted measure. This small amendment does not require the LRC director to provide separate written comments for each version. I’m not sure this amendment has any impact—I’ve always assumed that if a sponsor prepares multiple drafts of an initiative, each draft needs to undergo LRC review before revision and submission to the Attorney General and, ultimately, circulation. But every word added to or changed in petition law is another possible toehold for monkeywrenching Republicans who want to sabotage the initiative process. So bookmark this bill and keep an eye on it.

House Bill 1054 helps us register more voters by allowing citizens to use a nondriver identification number on their voter registration forms. Right now, the voter registration form requires that a registrant provide either a valid South Dakota driver license number or, if the voter has no valid license, the last four digits of the voter’s SSN. Like online registration, alternative ID will open the doors for a few more people to vote. Every extra voter we register is a positive step toward fuller, more representative democracy.

House Bill 1055 fiddles with the timeframe and conditions under which the Secretary of State may nuke a political committee. Right now, if a campaign committee fails to file a report on time, the Secretary can impose a penalty and terminate the committee if it doesn’t submit that late report within 30 days of receiving the Secretary’s penalty order. HB 1055 changes that timeframe to 35 days after the Secretary issues the penalty order. HB 1055 also adds failure to pay the penalty as a reason the Secretary can pull the committee’s plug.

Secretary Barnett’s seven proposed bills don’t revolutionize anything, but they don’t overtly portend harm to the electorate (though I’ll be watching HB 1053). Fully removing age information from the voter roll is a nice small gesture toward increased privacy, and online voter registration and alternative ID for registering voters are both positive changes inviting more people into the practice of democracy.

4 Comments

  1. Debbo 2020-01-15 20:37

    It’s surprising that the SDGOP is not putting barriers in the way of voting in emulation of the GOP nationwide. Maybe the SDGOP feels that confident that they’ve got SD wrapped up with a bow. At any rate, it’s commendable that the SDGOP is enhancing voting.
    (Note that I said something positive about the SDGOP.)

  2. Donald Pay 2020-01-15 22:10

    So, I’ve got questions about HB 1053. The way we wrote our initiatives was that we would draft up a version, run it through an attorney, who might put in better form, then we would discuss if we wanted a different version or any more changes. Then we’d take that version to a legislator, who would look it over. We would then go to the LRC with the legislator, sit down and explain it to the LRC staff person who had expertise in the area we were initiating. We wanted the expert in the LRC on that particular subject to give us a draft that would make the initiative the best it could be, while maintaining our general approach. Having the legislator involved gave us a bit more credibility. We didn’t want to go through anyone but the expert on the subject. We often got some excellent changes from LRC, which we always decided to go with as we put the initiative into final SOS approved form. Is that the current approach?

    I don’t want some “written comments.” I want LRC to draft the initiative into the proper language. Does that happen?

  3. Donald Pay 2020-01-16 09:07

    HB 1049. The problem with the pro/con statements is they are often written as campaign statements, rather than providing facts and valid legal arguments for or against the measure.

  4. Porter Lansing 2020-01-16 13:13

    With deference to HB 1049 and the popularity of TWITTERing; perhaps English teachers should teach a lesson in “succinctness” and it’s increased necessity in modern writing?

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